Five Tips To Get Your Mustang Ready For Opening Day At The Track

Racing season has arrived in parts of the country and is about to kick-off in others. There are some important tips to help prepare for your first event of the season, because ensuring your prized race car is up to the task of going into the final round at the opener is paramount, and being unprepared can shutdown a weekend in a heartbeat.

Here are the five basic items everyone should inspect, and verify, before hitting the track:

1. The Basics, Topping Off

The inside of an oil filter can tell you a lot about the internal workings of your engine, while not 100 percent necessary, opening up your old filters and examining the mineral deposits inside can clue you into potential hazards.

Ensuring you car has the proper fluid levels is extremely important. Vehicles used for competition are often subjected to greater forces than normal driving, such as launching a car, aggressive cornering, and sustained high RPM. The extreme stresses of racing cause fluids to break down more rapidly than in a typical street car.

A fresh oil change to remove any contaminants that were left over from last season might be a good idea. And if it’s been six months or more, it may be time to change that oil anyway, depending on the oil manufacturer’s recommendations.

Transmission fluid levels can also be just as important as engine oil levels. When checking the level on an automatic make sure the transmission is at operating temperature, while the vehicle is running, and follow the manufactures advised level testing procedures. Manual transmissions can be a bit tricky, so refer to the owners manual for you specific transmission when checking this level.

Pulling the plugs is another must for getting prepped for the track. Not only is this the perfect time to do a compression and leak down tests, but you can also inspect the plugs for wear or signs of early failure. Properly interpreting the condition of the spark plugs electrode and porcelain deposits and coloring can provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of your engines combustion cycle. Replacing plugs before heading to the race track isn’t altogether necessary, but making sure they are in good, working order to prevent larger issues is a must.

2. Inspect The Undercarriage, Suspension, Chassis

The suspension can take a beating on track days. Inspecting all of the mounting points and control arm bolts before any testing test should be on the your checklist. Many chassis have separate issues that come to light when excess stress is applied to key suspension components, so pre-inspection is  highly recommended.

Ford’s popular Fox Body through the SN95 body styles may be one of the most sought after stock-suspension drag racing platforms, but they also have an increased chance of tearing the toque boxes, so welding and/or reinforcing them can prevent this problem.

Bushings are a great place to start you inspection as factory bushings will wear out much more quickly when power and traction modifications are made. A simple visual inspection will suffice for most rubber bushings.

Inspecting chassis mounting points is just as important as bushing checks. A ripped suspension mounting point or loose bolts can be a devastating failure waiting to happen.

This is also an excellent time to verify that the automatic transmission shifter linkage is adjusted properly. clutches and internal parts of a manual valve body automatic can fail or wear prematurely when the shift mechanism doesn’t completely engage during a gear change.

Numerous other small inspections can be performed while the car is in the air; checking U-joints in the driveshaft and steering shaft, verifying tire clearance if you changed tires, and checking for oil leaks.

3. Maximizing Safety, Understanding Regulations

Many organizations have rules and safety regulations, and drag racing as a whole is mainly governed by the rules that NHRA has outlined in its rulebook. Show up to the track unprepared without the correct safety equipment and you will be turned away from competition, or kicked off the track completely.

Every approved firesuit or harness will have a SFI certification and manufactures date. Mare sure to reference the NHRA rulebook for the expiration date of each garment and harness.

After cranking on your car in the off-season to improve its performance, you may forget that going faster often also requires added safety equipment. Not only do you have to worry about what is happening in your lane on the track, but you need to be mindful that you can’t control what the driver in the opposing lane will do.

Having the proper attire packed before heading to the track is also key. Don’t show up in a tank-top, shorts, and a pair of flip-flops, you will automatically be turned away by the tech inspector. Report to the track with a SNELL-approved helmet, approved SFI firesuit, full-length pants, socks, and shoes if you plan on racing anything that’s been heavily modified.

Be mindful of the expiration dates on belts and all of your other safety equipment. For in-depth knowledge of safety harnesses and firesuits, click here. The date of manufacturing and SFI certification tags must be securely attached to safety belts and every garment you are wearing in order to pass tech.

4. Kicking The Tires

After a long off-season it is imperative to check the condition of tires and brakes, and verify the wheels are torqued to specification.

It can be easy to forget that the best way to store your race car is on a set of jack stands, in a dry cool area. Also protect the tires from UV damage. This storage method also prevents flat spots on bias-ply tires and helps them to perform constantly through a full lifespan. Radial tires can also become deformed under the same conditions over an extended period of time. Checking the sidewalls for damage and wear marks is the proper way to verify if a tire is safe to compete on.

Both bias-ply and radial tires are equipped with wear markers to help determine when its time for replacement.

To ensure tires can maintain air pressure, check for leaks and cracks. Although metal valve stems are required on vehicles that run 11.99 or faster, it should be added to the checklist, with replacement of valves if necessary.

In extreme cases, heat and improper maintenance can cause a rotor to fail, resulting in the loss of control due to a rotor or braking component completely locking up.

Removing the wheels to inspect rotors and brake systems must be complete before heading to the track. If rotors are heated to well over 500 to 600 degrees, they have a greater chance of deforming, resulting in rotor warp and micro-cracks. Verifying you have a healthy braking system can lead to better performance as the vehicle will not fight brake drag or a warped rotor the entire length of the track.

Lastly, after inspecting all the above components of the wheels and tires, verify for proper torque per factory specifications, using the correct fasteners as outlined in the NHRA rulebook.

5. Shaking It Down In Test Sessions

Hauling the car out to a test session to “shake it down” can greatly advance your chances of preforming well in the upcoming season. Having a solid and constant car will benefit you greatly, as it allows you make changes in the combination to see if the car is responding the way you want.

Utilize this time to learn how your car responds to changes you might have made in the off-season, or for testing new settings to your suspension or engine. Making adjustments in the suspension can greatly affect how the vehicle launches, or handles and makes its way down the track. This also gives you time to adjust  other things such as the shocks, preferred tire pressure, pinion angle and instant center adjustments.

Of course there’s plenty of other things to check, but this list is a good base for any contender who plans to make it out to the track for one race, or the entire season. Be sure to tell us in the comments what you always check before kicking off racing season.


About the author

Justen Spencer

Justen is a Ford modular motor fanatic with seven years of professional drag racing experience, and multiple championship seasons in NMCA West and PSCA. Originally from Las Vegas, he is the proud owner of four Mustangs, one that sees regular track time. When not racing, Justen can be found in the garage maintaining his championship-winning car.
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